Hanging out with our speaker is a lot like chilling with Hamlet—both of these figures have some major personal problems and they're not afraid to spill their guts about it.
Like Hamlet, our speaker is incredibly introspective, which also means that he's just a tad bit self-absorbed. You did notice that he spends the entire sonnet talking about himself, didn't you? We dare you to count how many times he uses says the words "I," "my," "myself," "me," etc.
He doesn't even pretend this sonnet is about anything other than him. At the end of the first quatrain, he tells us that he's going to "look upon" himself (do a lot of self-reflection) and then he proceeds to boo-hoo about everything he doesn't have going for him: he's broke (5) he feels hopeless (5), he's not good looking (6), he's got no friends (6), and he's jealous of guys who have more talent and better opportunities (7).
Hey. We're not judging. (Okay, maybe we're judging him just a little because he does begin to sound a little whiny.) That said, self-centeredness is pretty much the hallmark of lyric poetry. You know, poetry that is all about the emotions and feelings of the individual speaker. Sure, he says he's thinking about someone who loves him at line 10 ("thee"), but the entire sonnet is all about him and what's going on in his head. On the other hand, who else is he going to talk about? We learn early on that he's a social "outcast"(2) and he's "all alone"(2). We're just not sure why that is.
What we do know is that our speaker is seriously ticked off at God because he feels like "heav'n" has been ignoring him during one of the worst times in his life (3). Luckily, our speaker undergoes a dramatic transformation when he remembers the "sweet love" of some unnamed mystery person he knows (13). Just the thought of this person is enough to make him feel like a "lark" (that would be a bird) that rises up off the lowly earth and sings to high "heaven."
By the end of the sonnet, it's clear our speaker is no longer in a state of spiritual despair, but we can't really tell if he's made up with God yet. That's because the speaker acts like the unnamed mystery person's "sweet love" is some kind of religious experience (10-12). (Check out "Themes: Religion" for more on this.)
So, who is this "thee" person and what's his or her relationship to our speaker? Like we've said before, if you read Shakespeare's sonnet cycle from start to finish, then it becomes clear that the first 126 sonnets of the cycle are addressed to an unnamed young man. (FYI: Literary critics like to call this guy the "Fair Youth.")
The problem is, there's no specific evidence in Sonnet 29 that tells us whether or not the speaker is addressing a man or a woman. So, if we read Sonnet 29 just on its own, figuring out who "thee" is can be tricky.
For the first 9 lines of this sonnet, we're not sure who or what the speaker is addressing. Is he talking to us, his generic audience? Himself? God? It seems like the speaker could be talking to anybody.
We find out at line 10 that the poem's speaker is talking to someone very specific, but we're still not sure who it is because the speaker refers to this mystery person as "thee." We still don't know much about "thee" because 1) he or she doesn't talk back and 2) the speaker is more interested in his own feelings than revealing anything specific or personal about this person.
All we know is that, presently, this person is absent from our speaker's life for some reason or other. Also, when the speaker thinks about this mystery person's "sweet love," he feels happy and hopeful about his future. But, like we've said before, it's not clear what kind of love the speaker shares with "thee." So let us know when you work that one out, Shmoopsters.
Sure, Ralph Waldo Emerson thought the sonnets were autobiographical, but these days most literary critics acknowledge that we can't really know for sure. We think Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom puts it best—he points out that the speaker of the sonnets is a "dramatic creation," sort of like a fictional character in one of Shakespeare's plays.